Every hero has an origin, and it would be impossible to understand Ann MacLean without knowing where she came from.
She was born on the shores of Loch Dunvegan, on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. But at her core she was really a child of two worlds.
Ann was born to a humble master shipwright and his wife, where they lived in a “cot” in the village of Dunvegan. Though the actual house is lost to history, it would have been something like this.
She likely would have grown up among the villagers, doing chores around her house, speaking Gaelic, wearing homespun, and eating simple fare.
As a child, however, her life changed drastically. For some reason—I think childish curiosity—she found her way to her mother’s people and her mother’s childhood home. It lay a mere mile and a half away from her village, but it might as well have been a different world.
Ann’s mother had lived her early life in Dunvegan Castle, high on a cliff overlooking the same Loch. Ann’s grandfather, Norman MacLeod, the 22nd chief of Clan MacLeod, presided there, though he was often absent. It was probably Lady MacLeod who would have the most profound influence on Ann’s life.
Family stories tell us that Ann’s grandparents educated her and dressed her as a proper lady, no doubt preparing her for the life her mother should have lived. It is interesting that Ann’s parents allowed this, seeing as Ann’s mother never spoke to the MacLeods from the time she left the castle until her death.
Things might have been very different for Ann had her grandfather lived. But he died, leaving sizeable debts, just at a time when the economy in the Isle of Skye began to suffer. Although Clan MacLeod had steered clear of the disastrous Jacobite Rebellion a generation earlier, they still reaped the economic hardship that swept the country. Ann and her father had to seek their fortunes in the New World.
It’s interesting to note that Ann never quite forgot her dual roots. Her simple origins made her resourceful and strong, and helped her live through privation in the refugee camp. But she is remembered as being a proud woman, making advantageous marriages and passing on to her granddaughters a habit of washing in buttermilk.
Ann’s words to her granddaughters were always “Remember who ye are”. I wonder where she heard those words, and if they were a comfort to her in the years of difficulty. Though she was a child of two worlds, she walked the line between them without wavering.
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